Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1099

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Kim Weston
Kim Weston Kinm Weston Kim Weston Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston: It Takes Two

With Sixties Motown songstress Kim Weston performing at this monthâs Legends of Soul & Motown weekender at Prestatyn, Pete Lewis recalls talking to her in September 1990 when she was recording for UK producer Ian Levineâs Motorcity label

"Well, I've no way of knowing. Is that so?... They release product over there, and you've no way of knowing what Motown Records release overseas unless you're a writer. So I don't feel very good, considering I'm not getting any royalties! They don't PAY us, and they don't TELL us... And that album was in the Top 20, you say?"

"Fact is, I haven't done anything about getting my royalties from Motown, and that's my fault. But I think I'd better do SOMETHING! I'm not a spring chicken, you know! But, at the same time, I am happy that that the music is still selling. The fact that the Motown Sound is still going on makes me feel very good. As they say, 'The rhythm lives on!`!"

... The response from Sixties Motown legend Kim Weston, on my asking her how she felt about her classics âHelpless' and 'It Takes Two' (duet with Marvin Gaye) selling again as part of the recent UK compilation album 'Motown Dance Party 2'.

So just what does make the Motown back-catalogue almost certainly the biggest and most consistent-selling back-catalogue of any record company in the world? âProbably because of the sound of the music and the simplicity of the lyricsâ, replies Kim, speaking from her Detroit home: âGospel is doing real well right now here in The States. And most of the contemporary gospel, I feel, is based on your original Motown Sound. You know, gospel music has always had a heavy bass beat and heavy rhythm. And it still has a sound like the vintage Motown, which in itself was like a step up from the rhythm and blues.â

âBut then, having said that, I feel Motown can also still be heard in todayâs pop music too, when you think of your people like Anita Baker and the things that Aretha has done recently - and even records like Rick Astleyâs. But, though itâs influenced all these contemporary musics, I donât actually feel Motown was ahead of its time - I feel the Sixties was the time for it, and that the Motown Sound is now like a song thatâs considered a standard. Which means itâs timeless.â

Over the past couple of years, meanwhile, Kim has been recording in the studio with London-based Ian Levine producing, as part of Ianâs Motortown Reunion project. For which he has of course tracked down (with the exception of about three) virtually every single act who recorded for Motown in the Sixties - while obviously not including those who already have current major label contracts (Temptations, Diana Ross, etc) - and signed them to his newly-formed Motorcity label. In fact, Kim actually has the honour of being the first ex-Motown artist he worked with in the UK. Initial 1987 sessions resulting in a remake of âHelplessâ plus two new Levine songs; the stomping âSignal Your Intentionâ and the more contemporary âWhoâs Gonna Have The Last Laughâ. All of which are currently included on a newly-released, Ian Levine-produced Kim Weston LP âInvestigateâ.

Interestingly, Kim had actually met Britainâs forthright Mr. Levine many years prior to their recent recording sessions - way back, in fact, in 1969: âYes, Ian - who was just a teenager at the time - was actually on the same plane coming to LA as my then-husband Mickey Stevenson. Some way or another heâd found out that Mickey had been involved with the Motown Sound, and introduced Mickey to his parents. So, when I came to pick Mickey up at the airport, he in turn introduced me to this little fourteen-year-old English guy called Ian, and I promised that Iâd spend some time with him at the studio. It just so happened I had some errands to run - shopping and stuff like that to do - and after that I think I had a dubbing session. So Ian actually spent the day there at the studio with me! Then, about three years ago, (British promoter) Mr. Henry Sellars was talking to me about doing something over there in England. And, during our conversation, he brought Ianâs name up and asked me if Iâd be interested in working with him. So I told him Iâd like to see what stuff Ian was producing. And, after that was arranged and I got to England and I saw that Ian knew what he was doing, I said âWell, what can it hurt?â.â

âAs I said, I feel the Motown Sound is timeless. So, for Ian to bring it back - even though itâs not appreciated as it should be - of course I consider a blessingâ, she continues: âWhat heâs doing is similar to the old Motown but, being an artist, I can tell that - with the synthesizers - it feels a little more computerised. And, as far as the Motorcity record label itself is concerned, Iâm very pleased Ian has formed it. Because a lot of your companies like Motown now are looking for younger talent. Theyâre not recording any of the artists that Ian is dealing with. In fact, people from our era in general - not only the old Motown artists - are not really recording, unless theyâve been recording all the time. So I think itâs done a lot of good for the artists, though the City of Detroit itself has not really been able to benefit from it. But we are getting ready to do a show here, which I think will be good for the city.â

Interestingly, one of the tracks Kim has recorded for Ian is a re-make of her duet with Marvin Gaye, âIt Takes Twoâ - one of Sixties Motownâs best-remembered international hits. This time the male vocalist is none other than Frankie Gaye, Marvinâs brother: âIan had asked me some time ago about doing it. And, because Marvin was so special to me, I didnât wanna do it with just anyone. So doing it with Frankie had to make it special! But, having said that, I did my vocal in Detroit and he did his in LA. So I didnât get a chance to experience actually recording with him.â

Hailing originally from Detroit, Michigan, Ms Weston sang in church as a child and had her heart set on becoming a top gospel singer. But, while recording some demos to make extra pocket money, she attracted the attention of songwriter Eddie Holland (of Sixties Motownâs multi-million-selling Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting/production team) who introduced her to Motown boss Berry Gordy. She initially recorded on Motownâs Divinity label with gospel group The Wright Specials before meeting Motown writer/A&R manager Mickey Stevenson, who she of course later married. As well as the âTake Twoâ duet album with Marvin Gaye, she is also remembered for her solo Motown recordings like âTake Me In Your Arms (Rock Me A Little While)â; âIt Should Have Been Meâ; and the aforementioned 1966 classic âHelplessâ.

âIt was definitely a learning experienceâ, remembers Kim of her Motown days: âThat was the beginning of my career as a professional, though Iâd been singing in church all the time. And Motownâs reputation for being a family really grew around the way the artists worked with each other. We genuinely were a family of artists who looked after each other. While the producers were young people, just like we were - and they were basically experimenting on us. So it was like a school. Today weâre not in touch on a regular basis. But, whenever we do see each other, weâre usually very glad and thereâs a lot of embracing - like at the Motorcity Reunion that Ian held here in Detroit last year.â

On leaving Motown in 1967, Kim moved to Los Angeles to join MGM Records. Where, in addition to cutting two albums, she scored a hit with the since-huge Northern soul classic âI Got What You Needâ: âI left Motown because my husband (the aforementioned Mickey Stevenson) was leaving. He was the moving force behind my career, and I felt no-one else had really done that much to assist me. He left, and so I felt better being where he was. Of course thereâs no comparison between a Motown and an MGM, what with MGM being such a large company and Motown being the family-type label it was. Plus, while we did have some success, overall MGM was really not into black music. Even when we recorded similar product to Motown, they didnât have the distribution or promotion to handle that end properly. Basically they just were not geared so much towards black soul music.â

She later left MGM for the legendary Memphis-based Stax Records: âStax was more of a blues company. So that was definitely a contrast! I went from like R&B (Motown) to a pop/jazz thing (MGM) to a blues company (Stax)! At the time I went to Stax, they were having a quite a few internal problems. But I feel, if theyâd not been going through that - or if Iâd signed at an earlier time - my stay there would have been very good. Because they did give me a lot of freedom.â

In the early Seventies Kim split with her husband and returned to Detroit where she became a well-known radio DJ, presenting many soul shows on local radio through the Seventies. During this period, she also cut some records on small independent Detroit labels which have since become collectorsâ classics. Since the Eighties, meanwhile, she has been active in Detroit running a workshop to discover new, young black talent - to either nurture as groups, or set up in solo careers.

Kim performs at this monthâs Legends Of Motown & Soul weekender at Prestatyn Sands Holiday Centre, Prestatyn, Denbighshire, which runs October 10 to 13

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